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Seasonal Ingredients: The Radish

The Radish is available throughout most of the year but begins it seasonality in May. It is the root of a member of the mustard family, and has a peppery flavour and a crisp, crunchy texture. Among the most popular varieties are the small, cherry-sized common variety which has a red skin and white flesh.

You can also find black radishes, popular in Eastern Europe, which are more strongly flavoured, as well as large white mooli or diakon radishes, which are shaped like carrots. They are popular in Asian cookery and have a very mild flavour.

Radishes are rich is folic acid and potassium and are a good source of vitamin B6, magnesium, riboflavin, and calcium. It has been proved to aid digestion, boosts immunity; regulate blood pressure and supports healthy skin.
Go for firm radishes, with no blemishes. Any greens still attached should look fresh and perky. The bigger the radish, the less crisp its texture.
To increase the crispness of radish, soak them in iced water for a couple of hours. Wash, then chop off the greens, if present, then slice off the root. Leave whole, slice or chop, as required, and always prepare radishes just before using, as they loose their potency when cut.
Radishes are a great addition to any salad to add a fresh peppery flavor, as well as a hint of vibrancy.

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Kumud Gandhi- The Original Spice Girl?

kumud gandhi from the cooking academy interview about the alchemy of food, a food scientist. healthy living health benefits  author of a cupboard full of spices

To her legions of  satisfied customers she is the undisputed queen of the spice tin, a stimulating  teacher and the possessor of an exceptional palate- woe betide the would be cook that fails to season their dish correctly! To the corporate world she is an inspirational speaker, food alchemist and a passionate advocate for healthy eating and wellbeing in the workplace. To her colleagues she is a workaholic, keen to push boundaries and to explore a myriad of fresh ideas. To the world at large she is a broadcaster, author of “A Cupboard Full of Spices” and creator of award winning spice blends. At heart however, she remains incontrovertibly welded to the muddy vegetables and Ayuverdic remedies of her youth.

Today I am sitting opposite Kumud at the island in the centre of her impressively proportioned kitchen, looking out through the patio doors to her beautiful garden. This is not only a family kitchen but also home to her cookery school, The Cooking Academy. As I soak up the atmosphere the air is redolent with the comforting aroma of warming spices.

Kumud is taking some time out from her busy schedule, to examine the roots of her obsession with food. Reflecting on her childhood she comments “I can’t remember a time when food wasn’t medicinal”.

From an early age, as the daughter of immigrants and growing up in a traditional Gujarati household, food and its provenance was woven into the very fabric of Kumud’s being. Hailing from generations of chemists and spice merchants meant that she was heavily influenced by both the medicinal and flavour properties of herbs and spices. Ingredients were included in dishes not just for flavour but also for their medicinal values, answers to common ailments were found not in the medicine cabinet but rather in the kitchen cupboard. Seasonality was key and herbs and spices were as fundamental to a dish as the main ingredient.

The garden and the plate were inextricably linked, the unbreakable connection of earth to earth. “To this day I find growing things deeply satisfying. Food that you have grown yourself tastes different in the mouth and stimulates chemicals in the brain that are pleasing. It’s a connection with the whole purpose of life”. Gandhi looks rather too glamorous to be found grubbing around in a vegetable patch, nevertheless she exhibits both a scientific and emotional approach to food which is both intriguing and compelling.

holding organic vegetables in my garden of The Cooking Academy, an interview discussing the alchemy of food.

One might assume that Kumud’s clear passion for her subject would have meant a direct trajectory into a career in food. However, having studied economics, “which I enjoyed and was good at” she was actively encouraged by her school to pursue this route and secured a position with the Bank of England. Something of a trailblazer she was the first woman and indeed the first Indian to be fast tracked into this organisation through its graduate training scheme- even as a young woman she was already breaking down barriers. Despite relishing the challenges of a demanding role “food was always on my mind. When I stepped into the kitchen after a busy day at work it took me immediately to a different place and for 90 minutes or so I immersed myself in the cooking process and forgot about anything work related”.

It was while taking a career break to have her children that Kumud began to think about food in a more scientific way. Making baby food from scratch threw up many questions; “why this has separated, how long will this keep, how do I do it?” It was through researching the answers to these and many other culinary conundrums that she stumbled upon the concept of food science and reading around the subject came to realise that the Ayuverdic remedies that were so fundamental to her childhood were firmly rooted in science. Enrolling on a course she was excited to learn the chemistry behind the theories and this knowledge of ingredients and their structures gave her a deeper understanding and the confidence to “play with food”. The “Spice Queen” was born!

Gandhi’s initial foray into the world of food was via her fine dining company, The Saffron House. Word soon spread about the exquisite, hand crafted food and the charismatic woman at its helm. In a very short space of time Kumud found herself drawn into a world of event catering for fashion and television as well as for the celebrity arena. As I attempt to draw her further on the subject she modestly reveals that she has cooked for an eclectic mix of well-known characters ranging from HRH, The Prince of Wales and Nelson Mandela through to the likes of Madonna and Chris Martin. She remains resolutely un-starstruck and winks conspiratorially at me as she recalls asking “why is that guy wearing sunglasses?” on failing unapologetically to recognise P.Diddy.

It was perhaps inevitable that Gandhi would transition from catering into teaching and her mission to pass on what she had learnt and
passionately believed in - that from the womb to our final hour “we are what we eat” culminated in her establishing The Cooking Academy in 2010.

“To this day I find growing things deeply satisfying. Food that you have grown yourself tastes different in the mouth and stimulates chemicals in the brain that are pleasing. It’s a connection with the whole purpose of life”.

kumud gandhi sitting in her home the cooking academy discussing the alchemy of food, her journey as a food scientist

From the get go her aim was to educate her students not only in how to cook but perhaps more importantly to establish a deep connection and understanding of the ingredients they were cooking with. Her view of the act of cooking as a nurturing process, of giving something of yourself to your loved ones is one that she is passionate about communicating to her customers. She wants people not only to cook but to cook with consciousness, with all of their senses, to cook with others, to share. To this end she actively encourages people to think about the nutritional value of the spices in Indian cookery and to cook and eat authentic Indian food.

This mantra has attracted both national and international clientele to attend The Academy due to its reputation for specialism in spices and “real” Indian food. It came as no surprise to me to learn that Kumud has not been content to rest on her laurels, she has extended her influence into the corporate market, where she is in high demand as a public speaker lecturing on “Wellness in the Workplace”, “The Reasons to Season” and “The Alchemy of Food”. This market has proved to be perfectly suited to Gandhi’s blend of food science, nutritional eating and dietary advice.

Undoubtedly her background in the corporate world has contributed to her success in this arena. Her initiation was something of a baptism of fire. “I started making presentations from very early on in my career, addressing rooms of 50-100 men in grey suits, there were hardly ever any women present. I had only my academia to hold me up, to convince me that I was qualified to speak. Now I comfortably straddle two worlds which are by no means mutually exclusive “.

Does it stop there? Is the Earth round? Gandhi has dipped her toe into the world of commercial radio and television, has contributed articles to various illustrious publications and has offered advice on food matters to Government bodies.

And there’s more… Somewhere along the line she’s managed to shoehorn in the writing of a book. Self- published in October 2018, “A Cupboard Full of Spices” is a deconstruction of the herbs and spices that are fundamental to Indian cookery, forming an invaluable point of reference for her readers. The recipes it contains are perfectly balanced both for flavour and nutritional value, her belief that it’s never too late to change our eating habits forms the subtext of the book. Gandhi knocked tirelessly on many doors in an effort to get the book published. Rejection merely spurred her on and with typical aplomb her attitude was “sod it, I’ll do it myself!”

The finished product is mightily impressive by anyone’s standards and more than holds its own on the bookshelf alongside volumes published through the traditional route. Every recipe is accompanied by a stunning photograph. All of the dishes were prepared and shot in this very kitchen where we now sit. “There was no trickery involved- no engine oil or liquid soap ” remembers Kumud “just a lot of hard work- we photographed 18-20 dishes per day, we just kept on going until we lost the light. The photographer didn’t know what had hit her- she was anticipating no more than five set ups per day!” The support of her prep team and in- house chefs was key to a successful outcome. “We didn’t take any shortcuts, it was actually the fact that book was self- published that galvanised us into pushing the boundaries and striving for excellence”

kumud gandhi, author of a cupbaord full of spices, founder and ceo of the cooking academy, food scientist, motivational speaker, business women, bbc broadcaster radio televison chef rickamsnowrth team building events

It’s fair to say it hasn’t all been plain sailing since publication. “We thought that simply publishing the book was the hard part- we were so naïve now I look back as that was the easiest element of the whole process!” As she continues I gather that an uphill struggle doesn’t begin to describe it- resistance from distributors, bookshops, agents- you name it.

Gandhi clearly relishes a challenge as “A Cupboard Full of Spices” is now carried by three of the major distributors, sits on the shelves of an impressive number of bookshops and has recently attracted the attention of a major publisher and by a circuitous route it has even made its way to Australia and the USA, North Seattle to be precise. In addition she’s embarked on a tour of selected independent bookshops, delivering her “Spice Trail” to enthusiastic audiences alongside a selection of dishes from the book. Needless to say her mellifluous tones and deeply rooted knowledge of her subject ensure that there’s a queue at the tills come the end of the evening. Not bad for a novice I remark. “I don’t take no for an answer” replies Gandhi. Curiously that comes as no real surprise.

“We didn’t take any shortcuts, it was actually the fact that book was self- published that galvanised us into pushing the boundaries and striving for excellence”

I sense that our time together is coming to an end and that Gandhi is itching to address the next job in hand, in this case a competitive cookery event for a blue chip corporate client in The Academy training kitchens.

She embraces me warmly as I rise to leave, and I have to fight the impulse to immediately book myself on every one of the sixteen different classes currently on offer from The Academy. In a rare ‘know yourself, girlfriend’ moment realisation dawns that I am something of a fair weather cook and I quickly register the fact that I simply don’t have enough time or energy- something that I imagine Gandhi would find almost impossible to understand!

kumud gandhi, author of a cupbaord full of spices, founder and ceo of the cooking academy, food scientist, motivational speaker, business women, bbc broadcaster radio televison chef rickamsnowrth team building events

Text by Lou Lou Alexandra

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March Seasonal Ingredients

Seasonal Ingredients...

Spring brings us an abundance of vegetables, with tender stems and delicate flavours.  Some of the vegetables have a very short season so it is worth making the most of them.

Purple sprouting broccoli is available at this time of year, and if you’re a gardener it will be gracing your vegetable patch.  It is rather like asparagus with tender stems that should snap, the delicate florets having a dark purple colour.  It should be eaten as fresh as possible otherwise it tends to become a tough.

It is full of vitamin C and a good source of iron, folic acid, calcium and Vitamin A.  Purple sprouting broccoli was initially cultivated by the Romans, so you will see a number of Italian dishes including it.  It has been grown in the UK since the 18th Century.

It can be used in a variety of dishes – boiled or steamed it can be a simple side dish; add it to a stir-fry with some chilli, add it to pasta, or eat it with Hollandaise sauce as an indulgent treat.

Mackerel is also available at this time of year - in abundance.  Mackerel is a beautiful shiny fish with grey and silver stripes.  Mackerel is an oily fish, and an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.  It can give us some Vitamin D as well.

It has a delicate flesh which can be cooked in many ways and stays moist when cooked.  It can have a rich flavour once cooked, and doesn’t go well with creamy buttery sauces.  It is best simply grilled or pan fried.   It can be paired with sharp flavours such as rhubarb or gooseberry which cuts through the richness of the flavour.

Purple sprouting broccoli on the side of grilled mackerel is a delicious combination.
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Going Vegan for January?
Have you decided to try and be a vegan for January and joined the popular Veganuary movement?   There’s been a lot in the press about vegans and veganism, not least William Sitwell’s controversial comments last year about killing vegans.

Whatever your motivation, whether it’s to be a bit healthier or you’ve read/seen information about the meat trade or you’re worried about the impact on the environment made by producing food; it is a good idea to understand what you need to do to ensure you stay healthy and get the nutrients you need in your new diet.  As a vegan you are cutting out all foods and ingredients that are produced by animals – so you have to take out all dairy products, honey and eggs.  And if you’re going the whole hog then being a vegan can also extend to cutting out clothing, toiletries, cosmetics and other items that include animal products.

The proteins and nutrients essential to good health and well-being can be found in other sources. For example: protein is also found in beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and soya alternatives. Also a number of vegetables contain protein such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Omega 3 type vitamins can be found in seeds and nuts such as linseed, chia seeds and walnuts. Milk products can be replaced with soya, almond or oat milks and cream.  For more information visit the Vegan Society’s nutrition pages on their website.

If you have favourite dishes you think you can’t live without, try and find an alternative or adapt a recipe as far as possible to take out the animal products.  It can be expensive buying vegan products and there are many cheap ways of making substitutes.   For instance, did you know that aquafaba, the water from the can of beans or chickpeas, is an egg substitute and can make delicious chocolate mousse, pancake batter and even meringues.  If you don’t believe us, click here for our vegan chocolate mousse recipe!

Being vegan isn’t just for January and can be a lifestyle choice.  If you’d like to learn more about how to cook vegan food, The Cooking Academy’s Vegan class is scheduled for 23 January or 6 April click here to book a place.

The Vegan Society provides lots of information on becoming vegan.

#thecookingacademy #Veganuary #vegan #healthyingredients  #williamsitwell
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Christmas cooking – it’s all about timing
Does the thought of preparing the Christmas meal fill you with fear and trepidation?  Does your mother and/or mother-in-law tell you how to do things their way?  All those people offering to help, and then disappearing with a drink when the moment to serve up comes!

As with most things, it’s all in the planning.  Work out what time you want people to sit down for the meal, and work back from that.  There are a number of things you can do to get things prepared in advance, what you can do to ‘cheat’, and how to get your head round the timings so that everything is ready and piping hot at the right time.

Christmas Eve  

The day before you can prepare all the vegetables. Peel and cut the spuds, parsnips and carrots.  You can keep them in cold water overnight.  Leave them in the garage, covered so your pets don’t get them.

If you’re making Yorkshire puddings, make the batter the day before and keep in the fridge.  The batter will mature as the gluten has time to develop.  Alternatively buy Aunty Bessy’s Yorkshires!

Bread sauce and the stuffing can be made in advance and kept cool.  It’s easier to cook the stuffing in a separate dish and serve from that rather than stuffing the turkey which will extend the cooking time.

The base for the gravy can be made in advance.  Using good chicken stock and half a bottle of wine or Masala bring to the boil and reduce to a syrupy consistency.

Brandy butter can be made the day before, if not before that and kept in the fridge, or a cool room.

Calculate how long you need to cook the turkey.  If you’ve worked it out in advance, you won’t fret all night about getting up early enough.  Weigh the turkey on the scales, if it is too big to put on the scales, try using the bathroom scales.   Calculate the cooking time, at 40 minutes a kilo up to 4kg, and 45 minutes for every kilo over that weight.   Therefore, a 5kg turkey will take 3½ - 4 hours to cook (without stuffing).  Factor in the resting time, must be a minimum of 35 minutes to allow the fibres to set and the juices to baste the meat.  You can keep a turkey resting for up to an hour covered with aluminium foil it will keep its heat.

Make sure you’ve got a roasting pan big enough for the bird and that it will fit into the oven!

On the day (timings based on a 5kg turkey)

8.30am switch on the oven to 180C

9am put the turkey in the oven

12.30pm par boil the potatoes and parsnips. Drain and allow to air-dry for a bit, shake the colander/sieve so that you roughen the edges of the potatoes to make them crisp up nicely.

1pm take the turkey out of the oven, check it’s cooked by putting a skewer into a really fleshy part and seeing if the juices run clear.  Alternatively use a food thermometer and check that the temperature is over 68C.  Then cover the bird in aluminium foil and allow it to rest.  Crank up the oven to 200C, put goose fat or oil in roasting tins for the potatoes and parsnips and place them in the oven to heat up.  Once hot, put the potatoes in to cook; the parsnips can go in 15 minutes later.

1.30pm cook the carrots; finish the gravy by adding the juices from the turkey roasting pan and bring to a simmer.  Taste and season, if it is too strong, add some water.

Ensure you’ve got warm serving plates ready

1.45pm cook the green vegetables; take out the potatoes and parsnips.

2pm Serve… sit down with a drink and allow someone else to carve!

Happy Christmas!
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